The Hooligans of Kandahar by Joseph J. Kassabian
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Joe has been in the Army for five years. At twenty-two, he is deployed to Afghanistan with a squad of misfits who he loves and hates. The living conditions are squalid, the Army can do nothing right, the Afghans want them dead, the Afghan police refuse to do anything, and his squad leader is insane. The summers are blisteringly hot, the winters are numbingly cold. The sanitation in camp is deplorable, and outside, it’s worse. Second Squad is sent on endless missions with no point but to stumble onto IEDs or draw the fire of the Taliban. Rules of engagement prevent them from even shooting back. To survive in the intolerable conditions with sleep deprivation and exhaustion, the soldiers steal, fight, brutalize civilians, and cause mayhem. They live on caffeine, nicotine, and sleeping pills. The only common denominator is the unwavering devotion they bear for each other.
The Hooligans of Kandahar belongs on the same shelf as M.A.S.H. and Catch-22. Joe Kassabian has penned a memoir that is raw, raunchy, gritty, profane, and brutally honest. His report of the conditions on the ground in Afghanistan resonates with truth. This paragraph struck me viscerally:
“Unless we captured Mullah Omar himself, nothing we did on the ground would ever really matter. There would always be some other inbred, bomb-making asshole to take the last one’s place. Our only hope was to make it home before one of those guys found his mark.”
Mr. Kassabian’s prose is brutal, solid, and wonderfully readable. It will offend many, but they should read it anyway to experience if only vicariously, the nightmare of all the American and Allied troops who have been deployed in the hellholes of the Middle East. This is more than a great book. Buy it, read it, get used to it. There is a problem out there that needs to be solved.